Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday in support of the Asian American community after a shooting at three local day spas this week left eight people dead , six of them Asian women.
The killings followed a year of mounting anti-Asian violence in the United States, which community leaders say is due to Asian Americans being blamed for the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China in late 2019.
Crowds of people wearing masks, waving American flags and carrying posters that read “We are not the virus” and “Stop Asian Hate” stood in front of the golden-domed Georgia State Capitol building on Saturday.
“The women who perished, … I see my family in them,” Timothy Phan from Port St. Lucie, Florida, who drove eight hours to attend the rally, told CNN. “I feel like far too often, we’re just erased.”
Georgia Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Democrats elected in January, attended the rally in support of the demonstrators and led them in a moment of silence for the victims, video on Twitter showed.
“We gather today to honour and remember those who lost their lives and to demand justice,” Senator Ossoff said. “Let us build a state and a nation where no one lives in fear because of who they are or where they or their family come from.”
Georgia authorities have yet to determine what drove a 21-year-old white man who was charged with the killings at spas in and around Atlanta on Tuesday.
The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, told investigators sex addiction led him to violence, but lawmakers and anti-racism advocates have said anti-Asian bias could have been at least part of the motivation.
Some of the women killed were immigrants and mothers, described by family and friends as hard-working, loving and beloved.
Hyun Jung Grant was among those killed at Gold Spa in Atlanta. Her son, Randy Park, set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money for himself and his brother, who are alone now in the United States while the rest of their family is in South Korea.
“She was a single mother who dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and I,” Park wrote.
The shootings prompted an outpouring of grief, from the local community in Georgia to the halls of US Congress. Since Tuesday, mourners have piled flower bouquets and signs, lit candles and said prayers outside the spas where the victims were killed.
US lawmakers decried the spike in anti-Asian violence in a congressional hearing on Thursday, where Democratic Representative Grace Meng, who is of Taiwanese descent, testified that the “community is bleeding.”
On Friday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian American community leaders in Georgia to express condolences and implore Americans to stand together against hate.